HOLLYWOOD — What most people see is the finished product, not all the behind the scenes work and care that happens along the way.
Kiana Bell experienced the reality quickly though, as she moved through the process of completing a traditional Seminole basket.
“There’s a side to basket making that most people don’t see,” Bell said. “You get blisters on your hands and it’s a lot of hard work. When you finish your hands cramp up.”
Nevertheless, Bell said there’s much more to experience and enjoy about the process despite any blisters or cramps.
For the past two years, Bell, 21, has been learning from other basket makers at the Hollywood Community Culture Center.
It’s where she’d previously seen other women making baskets and was intrigued.
“When I first started, I heard stories from women that the younger women would start basket making, but then stop after a short time,” Bell said.
She decided she wouldn’t be one to give up, and soon recognized that she not only enjoyed the process, but was very good at it.
Bell’s main teacher and mentor is Donna Frank, who has taught at Hollywood Culture for about three years.
“It’s a blessing and fills your spirit,” Frank said about the basket making process.
Her mother – Lena Osceola – started teaching her the craft when she was 12 years old.
Basket making begins by harvesting sweetgrass while it’s still green – usually in the summer months.
Then it must go through a special washing process and be set out to dry in the sun for about three days.
“You’re standing under a hot sun,” Bell said. “And you have to know the right moment to pick it.”
The bases of the baskets are made from the palmetto palm fiber – typically harvested in the winter months.
Frank said basket makers learn about the importance of weather cycles and the health of the earth’s environment through the sweetgrass and palmetto palm harvesting process.
She said basket making is traditionally done outside under a chickee, and that’s where she usually teaches her students today.
Frank stresses the craft’s rich Seminole history, too. Many basket makers sold their finished products to tourists in order to make a living.
Bell said she’s known Frank for about four years, and while she’s a demanding teacher, she appreciates her commitment to the traditional ways.
Frank returned the compliment: “She astonished me,” Frank said of Bell. “She took [basket making] to a whole other level.”
Bell plans to continue on with the craft and has encouraged her sister, Adrian Condon, to follow in her footsteps.
Bell and Frank are also working with staff at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in Big Cypress to possibly have her baskets featured in a future display.